Mariana Askerville paused in the driver’s seat, digging through her purse.
“C’mon, dammit, where the hell are you?!?” She began to pull things out and toss them half-heartedly on the passenger seat of her ’95 Dodge Shadow. Finally, there at the bottom, where it had come unattached from her key ring, was her security badge for the parking structure.
Throwing everything back into her knock-off Coach bag except the badge, cell phone and sunglasses, she cranked the radio – a good song was on. The type of song that made you feel better at the end of a long week.
She was beginning to feel better about things as she backed out of her space, and by the time she had gotten to the bottom of the structure’s ramp, rolling down her window to swipe her card, she had all but forgotten all about her sorry sack of a manager and the mind-numbing tasks he’d had her waste an entire afternoon to complete.
She was singing along as she pulled up next to the kiosk. Leaning out of her window, card in hand, she looked longingly at the bright sunlight that awaited her mere feet away. In order to open the gate, one had to push a red button, listen to a pre-recorded message about entering cash, credit or debit card and wait for a green light before the sensor would recognize the magnetic card being waved in front of it. The entire process took maybe 20 seconds, but on seventy-degree Fridays in May, that 20 seconds felt like 20 minutes.
“C’MON, DAMMIT,” she swore loudly, ducking back inside her car. The ancient guard arm lifted in a jerky way, taking its sweet time before stopping briefly in the “up” position. Knowing she had only moments to make her escape before the arm slapped back down, she hit the gas, lurching forward over a speed bump into the sunlight.
She rolled somewhat to a stop, looked quickly for pedestrians (like, when were people ever walking down this street?) and hit the gas again.
Suddenly there was a squeal of brakes and too late, Mariana saw the dark blue Jaguar coming all too quickly from the right.
“OH SHIT!!!!” she shouted, stomping the brake pedal with both feet. She was answered by a loud crash, and then the sound of metal scraping metal.
When both cars came to a halt, she sat behind the wheel, stick straight, not believing what had just happened. Eyes wide, she looked to her right and found a man behind the wheel staring back at her. He looked furious.
Looking quickly from side to side, she was unsure of what to do first. Dumbly, she looked down at her arms, her torso and then her legs, holding her hands palm-up as she did so. Seeing no bodily damage, she looked up again and the man was gone.
Not good, not good, not good. She couldn’t see any damage inside her vehicle either and figured she should get out. That’s what one did during something like this, right?
Suddenly, it occurred to her that she might have injuries she couldn’t see.
Oh my God, what do they say you should do after an accident? Don’t move your neck? Too late for that. Stay awake? No problem there. Her heart was racing a hundred miles a minute.
Slowly, she eased her driver’s door open and swung her legs around and stood up. Suddenly, there was the driver of the Jag, almost in her face.
“WHAT IN GOD’S NAME DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?” he shouted. “WE COULD HAVE BEEN KILLED!”
Her mouth dropped open, eyes wide. “We- we- well…I’m SORRY. Are you OK?”
“YES, I’M OK, DAMMIT. DO YOU KNOW HOW TO DRIVE?!? WERE YOU WATCHING WHERE YOU WERE GOING?!? You could KILL a person not looking where you’re going like that!” As he continued to yell at her, he got closer and closer, and she backed up until the frame of her car pressed into her back.
“Is everyone alright?” Kenny, the parking structure’s attendant stepped cautiously from his plexiglass booth. “Do you need me to call the cops?”
“Uh, yeah,” Mariana replied at the same time the man shouted, “NO!”
The man’s attention was diverted for a moment and Mariana took the opportunity to get back in her car and shut the door. At the sound of the door closing, the man spun back around to face her. The sight of the horror on her face made him pause. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“I’m sorry,” he said, rubbing a hand over his face. “I’m just a bit…shaken. Are you OK?” He leaned toward the open window, sincerely looking shaken but no longer irate.
“I-I think so,” she stammered. “I have a cell phone.” She held it up where he could see.
At the realization that both parties appeared to be OK and all anger had been diffused, Kenny took a few steps backward toward his office, trying to dismiss himself from the scene. Not turning his back, he stood there, unsure of what to do with his hands.
“I’ll call,” the Jag driver said, pulling out an iPhone and touching its screen quickly. When he had it to his ear, the first car honked.
Horrified, Mariana looked in her rear-view mirror to see a long line of cars snaking up the structure’s ramp and around the corner. At ten after five on a sunny Friday, she could imagine each driver’s impatience, and felt their ire like a weight on her back.
“Maybe we should pull our cars out of the way?” she suggested, nodding down the street. The man ignored her as he gave the dispatcher details, repeating the building’s address and the location of the exit of the parking structure.
Kenny nodded in silence, wanting to appear in charge when he so clearly wasn’t.
Tucking his phone back into his pocket, the man looked up. “Wha? Oh, yeah…” Seeing the idling cars he whirled around to look over his shoulder at the street. “Yeah, we should pull over there.” He walked back to the driver’s side of his car, got in, and turned the key. The engine caught without hesitation.
He backed slowly away from Mariana’s oxidized red Shadow, and once he was clear, whipped the front end around to back up to the curb on the opposite side of the street, back they way he’d come. Once he had moved his vehicle, Mariana started her car, they key to which had to be held to the starting position for a second or two before it roared to life, but that was the case any day. She slowly pulled out of the structure to park along the curb closest to the building.
Turning the key off again, she took a deep breath and then let it out again, noticing her hands were shaky and that she wanted to cry. Instead she grabbed the wheel with both hands until her knuckles were white, feeling each driver who whipped past her giving her the stink eye.
She mentally tried to calculate the cost of the Jag but had no point of reference. Surely it was worth more than she made in a year, maybe even two. Tears pricked the back of her eyes when she remembered she had let her insurance lapse. It had been either that or her rent.
She looked up to keep the tears from spilling down her cheeks and took a few deep breaths – in through her nose, out through her mouth – before she felt him staring at her.
WHAT?!? Haven’t you ever seen anyone have a panick attack before?!? she thought angrily.
She decided that she could use some fresh air while they waited and pushed the door open again. Standing in the street, she realized he was still staring. Not wanting to meet his eyes without proper police protection, she turned to walk around the front of her car so she could lean against the passenger side of her car, looking away from the Jag driver.
And that’s when she saw it.
She had known it all along, of course, pushed to the back of her brain the moment the adrenaline started pumping.
He wasn’t staring at her…
He was staring at the ONE WAY sign she had parked in front of…
The sign pointing the OPPOSITE way he’d been driving.